Get involved: send your pictures, video, news and views by texting ECHONEWS to 80360, or email us »
Harlequin boss "happy" to meet fraud team
THE boss of a multi-million pound Caribbean resort investment based in south Essex is “happy” to meet the Serious Fraud Office should it investigate his business.
Dave Ames, 61, from Wickford, told investors there was no reason the SFO should need to look at his firm.
His assurance in a newsletter to clients came as some investors revealed they have been interviewed by officers from the Government agency, which investigates allegations of fraud, as part of an investigation into Harlequin.
Harlequin, based in Honywood Road, Basildon, which boasts celebrities such as TV property guru Phil Spencer and football pundit Andy Townsend as clients, has taken an estimated £300million for 6,000 off plan hotel rooms and villas since 2005, but so far built just 300.
Mr Ames said: “Harlequin has not been contacted by the SFO as part of any investigation.
“This allegation stems from (St Vincent opposition leader Arnheim) Eustace and appears to be politically motivated.
“As far as Harlequin is concerned there is no reason why the SFO should or would be looking at the company.
However, in the event that the SFO wishes to discuss these matters, Harlequin will be very happy to do so.”
The Echo can exclusively reveal the SFO has been making enquires into Harlequin for a number of months, though the agency has issued no charges or any detail of the allegations they are looking at.
John, 53, and Erica Broughton, 50, ploughed more than £50,000 into deposits on two properties through Harlequin which have yet to be built.
Mrs Broughton said: “The SFO investigators came to see us in early October and spent four hours tape recording interviews with us.
They took away contracts and paperwork.”
Meena Gupta, aged in her 40s, invested in the 1,000-room Merricks resort in Barbados, originally due to be built in 2008.
She said: “I contacted the Financial Services Authority and they referred me to the SFO.
"Investigators came to my house, tape recorded an interview and left business cards.”
The investigation follows complaints made by former business associates, who have been locked in various civil disputes with Harlequin since summer 2010.
Following preliminary enquires made by principal intelligence officer Barry Collins, the file was been passed to a team of investigators at its investment fraud division led by case manager Dave Dinnell last year.
A Financial Services Authority source also confirmed it had referred questions about Harlequin to the SFO.
At a press conference in St Vincent last week, where Harlequin has partially opened Buccament Bay resort, Mr Eustace said he had seen documents sent to the SFO and understood it was investigating.
Harlequin is billed as affordable to the everyday investor through a 100 per cent finance scheme.
Many clients use self invested personal pensions (Sipps) to invest or remortage properties to pay deposits.
The SFO is investigating a number of unregulated companies selling overseas accommodation to pension investors.
However, a spokesman would neither “confirm or deny” it was looking into Harlequin.
Being investigated by the Serious Fraud Office does not mean there has been any misconduct by a firm.
It has been known to investigate but then take no further action because it cannot find evidence to show wrongdoing.
Last July the High Court ruled the SFO unlawfully raided property magnates Vincent and Robert Tchenguiz’s homes during an investigation. They are now suing for £200million.
There are four stages to an investigation before it is decided if a case should go to trial.
The SFO will not investigate all complaints, but those that it does are first looked at by intelligence officers.
There is then an assessment stage.
If the case is accepted, the third stage involves the assignment of a case team. That could lead to possible raids and studying of evidence to determine whether there is any basis for a prosecution.
Harlequin vehemently denies any wrongdoing and says it has no knowledge of an SFO investigation.
Carter Ruck, Harlequin’s solicitor said if complaints had been made by former business associates, now involved in litigation with Harlequin, then they were unfounded.